Our weeklong preview of the previews continues today with a look at the No. 2 issue on the market, Pro Football Weekly NFL Preview (196 pages, $6.99 U.S.; $7.99 Canada)
Pro Football Weekly offers a four-page spread with the useful and seemingly obligatory look at each team's individual units. Sidebars offer projected training camp rosters of 90-odd players, projected depth chart, stadium info and a list of front-office and coaching personnel. The best features on the team-profile pages are the game-by-game statistics showing team and key player stats from every regular-season contest in the 2005 season. PFW is the only preview to offer so complete an overview of 2004 game-by-game statistics. It's also the only magazine to offer a snapshot of a key training camp battle on each team.
Unfortunately, PFW feels compelled to hand out the useless, overinflated grades that mar the other preview editions we've examined and that, besides wasting lumber, provide a gross disservice to readers truly interested in comparing the talent on different teams. We've discussed this phenomenon with the finest minds in Pigskin America. Our only conclusion is that large, over-ripe gridiron grades are to grown-up football preview editors what boobies are to 14-year-old boys. They just can't resist looking at 'em and can't wait to touch 'em.
PFW magazine handed eight grades to each team, rating individual units from quarterbacks down to special teams. That's a total of 256 grades league-wide. Of those, 247 were C's or better. In other words, in the estimation of PFW editors, 96.5 percent (247 of 256) of the units in football are at least average. A full 83 percent (212 of 256) are above average (received a grade higher than C).
The magazine handed out just nine grades (3.5 percent) lower than C and it did not give a single grade lower than C-. In others words, according to PFW, even the lousiest units in all of football, the dredge-scraping, bottom-of-the-barrel, most shit-scum awful unproductive units on the most donkeyfied organizations, are just slightly below average. And there are only nine of them in all of football.
Something literally does not add up.
Take the Redskins for example. They won just six games last year, playing in a division that fielded just one winning team and in a conference that was as weak as it's ever been (only two NFC teams last year posted winning records against quality opponents, conference finalists Atlanta and Philly).
In that cesspool of suckness, the Redskins managed to outsuck many of the rest. Only three NFC teams posted fewer wins. Sure, Washington's defense was strong (5th in the league in scoring) but its insipid offense averaged just 15.0 points per game and ranked 31st in a league of 32 teams. Still, in the eyes of the editors at Pro Football Weekly, the Redskins warrant glowing reviews all around: every unit is above average. Much like every blossoming booby is firm and supple to the horned-up 14-year-old schoolboy.
Quite frankly, we wish PFW's editors were scouting high school games back in the 1980s. With their eye for talent, our entire staff of sloth-footed, midget 5-foot, 9-inch offensive linemen would have picked up free rides to Notre Dame and Nebraska.
Pro Football Weekly projects records for each team and is one of three previews we examined to pick Philly over Indy in Super Bowl XL (page 4). Their overall picks seem pretty solid and based largely on one of the few facts prognosticators can turn to when making projections: last year's performances. The biggest surprise? PFW editors think the Vikings are poised for a breakout (12-4) season.
See "Sporting News." A serious lack of testosterone is penetrating the editorial staffs at too many football publications. Maybe if PFW's editors were still interested in boobies, and less interested in fabricated grades, they might be able to rectify the situation. Unfortunately, gawking at nubile young cheerleaders is a forgotten craft among the liberal elite pigskin media.
Thankfully, the NFL Network has stepped to the plate with its "Making the Squad" cheerleader T&A fest that premiered June 13 and that features our favorite new reality TV gal pal, buxom young Jeannie. Thank you, NFL Network! Some people take one for the team. They NFL Network is giving one for the team of low-life angry trolls out there in PigskinLand during a year in which the preview editions have failed us in this key element of the American football experience. Cheerleaders are what separate America from the lesser nations. And we want to see them, dammit!
With New England's success in recent years, its malleable 3-4 defense has become a hot topic around the league and most of this year's preview issues spend some time focusing on the trend toward the alignment.
We feel PFW's 3-4 feature (page 24) is the best out there, with the most compelling historical analysis and the most useful sidebars. PFW traces the origins of the 3-4 back to Bud Wilkinson's dominant Oklahoma teams of the 1950s (as does Lindy's profile of the 3-4). PFW staffer Eric Edholm reports that it was brought to the NFL in the 1970s by New England head coach Chuck Fairbanks (a former Oklahoma coach) and Houston Oilers defensive coordinator Bum Phillips (page 24) in the 1970s.
(Lindy's disputes this version of the evolution of the 3-4, saying it was popularized by Miami defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger. The Lindy's piece was written by Alex Marvez, who covers the Dolphins for the Florida Sun-Sentinel. We'll investigate the real story more fully this season and give you the Cold, Hard Football Facts on the evolution of the 3-4.) A sidebar lists teams that use the 3-4, teams that are switching to it this year and those teams that are tinkering with the 3-4 alignment.
The other main feature-type article includes this year's obligatory look at teams of the decade (page 28), dating back to the Cleveland Browns of the 1950s.
The front-of-the-book notebook his highlighted by several interesting pieces:
• An interview with Atlanta GM Rich McKay (page 10), who "some believe is the future commissioner of the NFL," writes PFW.
• A short Q&A with Trent Green, a former eighth-round pick who has become one of the most productive QBs in football (4,591 passing yards last year, tops in the AFC) and leader of one of the NFL's most consistently explosive offenses (page 12).
• A quick preview of the NFL's three new head coaches, Romeo Crennel, Nick Saban and Mike Nolan (page 10).
Pro Football Weekly sets itself apart from the lesser previews (Sporting News, Athlon) with a pretty impressive collection of statistics, charts and lists.
Beside the aforementioned game-by-game stats on the team profile pages (which don't appear in other previews), PFW also offers:
• A list of 20 potential impact rookies (page 8)
• A solid list of preseason power rankings (page 9) with very few ratings that will raise eyebrows. Controversial rankings are often purposeful, an effort not to serve readers but to whip up emotion among the angry trolls. (Unless, of course, they're pieced together by people like Pete Prisco, who's just too much of a hack to know any better.) Perhaps the most controversial ranking is Minnesota at No. 6. The Vikings went 8-8 last season, have historically struggled on defense and have lost their top big-play, big-name player in Randy Moss. PFW's editors put faith in Minnesota's "revamped D" and, as we stated earlier, project the Vikings as a 12-4 team in 2005. In most instances, their preseason rankings are consistent with their projected records for each team. That's a true triumph in a pigskin preview genre where contradictions abound.
• A list of 10 must-see games this year (page 13). Again, a solid list that jibes with the Cold, Hard Football Facts. PFW and CHFF agree that the top game of 2005 will most likely be Indy at New England Nov. 7 on Monday Night Football.
• An interesting player-voted ranking of all the fields in football (page 13), from the best (Raymond James Stadium) to the worst (RCA Dome). The home of the Colts is slated to replace its AstroTurf with FieldTurf before the first preseason game.
• Potential "fantasy breakout" players (page 11)
Loyal readers of the Cold, Hard Football Facts (Hi Uncle Charlie!) know that we have a general disdain for fantasy football and what it's done to corrupt the minds of fans and "pundits" who confuse fantasy proficiency with actual onfield excellence.
To that end, PFW does a commendable job differentiating between top fantasy players and top actual players. For example, its list of the top 50 players in actual football (page 30) includes a long list of players who never appear in fantasy lists.
The list is further broken down by top players at every position, further differentiating it from fraud fantasy football lists. PFW's list includes, for example -- No! Yes! -- offensive linemen. Fantasy lists do not include offensive linemen – another reason to despise the corrupting influence fantasy football has had on the youth of America. Left to us, the Socrates of gridiron dialectic, we'd force fantasy football to drink hemlock and take its own life.
Finally, PFW's 14-page back-of-the-book statistical spread (page 182) is chock-full of compelling NFL data, such as red-zone efficiency, turnover tables and 2005 strength of schedules. It also includes several pages of 2004 statistical leaders and team rankings in multiple categories. In fact, PFW's statistical pages are so good that we'll actually turn to it as a resource this year.
Pro Football Weekly excels in its fantasy coverage, to the point of excess. For example, do we really need to know that associate editor Trent Modglin picked Arizona punter Scott Player in the 25th round of the PFW office draft? Does anyone really care that contributing writer Chris Neubauer's imaginary secondary is "big, physical and intimidating" – according to PFW "personnel analyst" Nolan Nawrocki? Hey, our buddy Wally is going to pick Tiki Barber in the second round of his draft with his pals from the Bada Bing in Bayonne, N.J. Does anyone care? Exactly.
Sure, guys, it may have been an interesting exercise over a few beers in the office one day, but it does nothing to help readers. We're sure the magazine can find a more effective use of this space – six entire wasted pages – in 2006. Spare us the office gossip and give us some Cold, Hard Football Facts.
An additional three-page fantasy spread (page 48) includes a Q&A by Modglin answering reader letters and PFW's basic fantasy draft board (page 50) listing 334 players by position. It does not include any Cold, Hard Football Facts from last season, but the list is supposedly ordered by last year's production and is a useful feature for less committed fantasy coaches to have on hand come draft day.
Pro Football Weekly's compelling collection of lists, statistics and charts, and its effort to rank players for both fantasy and actual football purposes, distinguish its preview coverage this year from the likes of Sporting News, Athlon and, to a lesser extent, Lindy's.
However, it's woefully inflated grading system does a great deal to damage the publication's credibility, in the inimitable estimation of the lord of the pigskin dance, the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
ATTENTION ALL PREVIEW PUBLISHERS! If you're going to devote the space to these grades and you want readers to take them seriously, do them in a way that provides league-wide context and – heaven forbid! – helps the reader
If you're simply going to publish fabricated grades to kiss the ass of players and teams across the league, don't expect readers to hand over their $6.99 or their respect for your authority.
Plus, you open yourself up to glaring mischaracterizations like this: According to Pro Football Weekly, the New England Patriots' linebacking unit is one of the very worst in football. Last we saw this unit, it was forcing turnovers, sacking the most heralded QBs in the game, catching TD passes in the Super Bowl and humiliating one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. Yet, according to PFW, this unit merits a mere C+ in its overinflated grading system – one of the lowest grades the magazine hands out. Only five linebacking units in football are worse. They can be found in Cincinnati, Indy, New Orleans, Oakland and Seattle -- all teams with much less effective defenses. Twenty-two of the 32 linebacking units in the NFL are better.
Atlanta's offensive line also earns a C+ from PFW's editors. Last we checked, the Falcons led the league in rushing with 167 yards per game, a full 13 yards per game better than the No. 2 team in the league (Pittsburgh, 154 YPG). This is normally a sign of proficiency along the offensive line. PFW seems to give the bulk of the credit to Atlanta QB Michael Vick who, as we reported last week, and is on pace to shatter the NFL's all-time average per carry record.
However, Pro Football Weekly tells us that Vick is "difficult to block for" and that "the Falcons' pass blocking is better than people give them credit for." The Falcons did surrender 50 sacks last season, but the magazine tells us that the line "gives up sacks because there is no consistency behind them."
Despite its own glowing review, and the evidence provided by the Cold, Hard Football Facts, PFW insists Atlanta's offensive line is one of the worst in the league. Only seven other OLs were slapped with lower rankings. Again, these grades are useless, even in an otherwise fine publication like PFW's preview. The proof of their uselessness is ubiquitous.
PFW opts for substance over style, eschewing the glossy pages of many of the other previews for thin newspaper-type stock full of informative highlights. The magazine's features are solid, its collection of stats, charts and lists are second to none among this year's previews and PFW scores very big points with us for differentiating between actual football and fantasy football. Next year, pull the ass-kissing grades, keep the office fantasy draft among yourselves and give us some buxom young lasses to admire and you'd have a damn-near-perfect pigskin preview.